Stromness

   STROMNESS, a sea-port town, burgh of barony, and parish, in the county of Orkney, 14 miles (W. by S.) from Kirkwall; containing 2785 inhabitants, of whom 2057 are in the town. This place derives its name from a point of land at its southern extremity, boldly projecting into the sound of Hoy, against which the tide rushes with violent rapidity, and which, by affording shelter from the west winds, forms a commodious harbour. The town, originally a small fishinghamlet consisting of a few scattered huts, was dependent on the royal burgh of Kirkwall till the year 1754, when, on appeal to the court of session, afterwards confirmed by the house of lords, it was emancipated from all contribution and dependence. Though possessing a situation admirably adapted for the erection of a handsome town, it consists mainly of an irregularly formed street nearly a mile in length, and in some parts scarcely twelve feet wide. The houses, many of which are built on the extreme verge of the land, and some of which have their foundations even in the bay, are of rather unprepossessing character, seemingly erected more with regard to facility of connexion with the harbour than to any uniformity of appearance. A public library was established about 1810; it is well supported by subscriptions of seven shillings per annum, and has a valuable collection of standard works. A society for promoting the study of natural history was soon after established, and has been liberally encouraged; the museum is enriched with an extensive collection of natural curiosities both foreign and domestic, and with numerous specimens of the various birds frequenting the Orkney Isles, and the most interesting fish, shells, and fossils found in this part of the coast.
   The manufacture of kelp, at one time carried on to a very great extent, has been much reduced; and that of straw-plat, for which there were several large establishments, is now confined to the female part of the population, who are employed at their own dwellings. There are numerous well-stored shops for the supply of the neighbourhood with various articles of merchandise; but the principal support of the town arises from its fishery, and from the numerous vessels which, in unfavourable weather, are driven in to take shelter in its harbour, which is accessible to ships of large burthen. The various piers are commodious, and well adapted to the purpose: at the northern extremity of the town is a spacious warehouse for the stowage of cargoes saved from vessels wrecked off the coast. The harbour is nearly a mile in length, and has eighteen feet depth of water at spring tides. A patent-slip has been constructed for the repair of vessels that may have sustained damage during heavy gales; it is well constructed, and capable of receiving ships of 500 tons. Ship-building is carried on to a considerable extent; and several fine schooners, sloops, and brigs have been launched, and also numerous boats to be employed in the fisheries. The number of vessels belonging to the port is twenty-three, of the aggregate burthen of 2132 tons. Some sloops are employed in the cod and haddock fisheries; and during the months of May and June, great quantities of lobsters are taken, of which not less than 12,000 are annually sent to the London market by Gravesend smacks, which call here twice every week during the fishing season for that purpose. An attempt has been on foot, and not without encouraging success, to make this place a station for the herring-fishery, the accomplishment of which object will materially add to the prosperity of the town. A post, subordinate to that of Kirkwall, conveys letters three times in the week. Fairs are held annually in May, September, and November, chiefly for cattle; the September fair is the principal, and is well attended. A considerable number of cattle have recently been shipped hence for Caithness, and the markets in the south. The town was made a burgh of barony in 1817: the government is vested in two bailies and a council of nine burgesses; but the burgh has no common fund, neither is there any gaol nearer than Kirkwall. The magistrates consequently exercise little more than a nominal jurisdiction.
   The parish is bounded on the south by the sound of Hoy, on the east by the lake of Stenness, and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean; it is about five miles in length and nearly four in average breadth, and comprises 8160 acres, of which 1860 are arable, almost 1000 in pasture, and the remainder undivided common. The surface is diversified with hills of various elevation, rising from 100 to 500 feet in height above the level of the sea; they are destitute of wood, and have a bleak and barren aspect, but being interspersed with well cultivated valleys and tracts of verdant pasture, they form a striking contrast in the general scenery of the parish, which is pleasingly interesting. The view, also, from these eminences is rich, embracing the expanse of the Atlantic, the hill of Hoy, the beautiful island of Græmsay, and the cluster of the Orkneys, with the lofty mountains of Sutherland in the distance, and the sound of Hoy, forming an approach from the Atlantic to the harbour from the west, and in which it is in contemplation to erect a lighthouse. Little improvement has been made in agriculture. The crops are oats and bear, with some potatoes, but scarcely more of the last are raised than are sufficient for the use of the inhabitants; the soil is however good, and the substratum principally freestone, slate, and granite. The slate-quarries were formerly wrought more extensively than at present, and from 30,000 to 40,000 slates were annually sold; though well adapted to the climate, they form a weighty roof, and have lately been superseded by those of Easdale, which are of lighter quality. There are no regular quarries of freestone; what is required for building is taken from the shore in boats. The granite was some time since quarried by a company formed for the purpose, and was found to be of very superior quality; but the work was discontinued for want of capital. Leadore is also found here, and was once wrought; but the produce was insufficient to remunerate the adventurers. Cairston, the seat of J. R. Pollexfen, Esq., is a handsome summer residence, beautifully situated, and commanding some fine views; the grounds are tastefully laid out, and the farm attached to the estate is in a high state of cultivation.
   The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Cairston and synod of Orkney. The minister's stipend is £158. 6. 7., of which one-tenth is paid from the exchequer; with a manse, and a glebe valued at £12 per annum: patron, the Earl of Zetland. The church, erected in 1816, is a large structure with a small spire; it is situated in the burgh, and contains 1200 sittings. There are places of worship for members of the Free Church and the United Secession. The parochial school was till lately in a remote district, and consequently of confined benefit; the master has a salary of £25 per annum, with a small dwelling-house. There are two schools supported by subscription, in which, in addition to the usual course, the Latin, Greek, and French languages, and the mathematics, are taught, and in one of them navigation also; the masters have a regular salary. There are also male and female schools supported by fees. Near the site of the old church are the remains, chiefly the foundations, of some religious house, of which little is known, but which, from its name, is supposed to have been a monastery; and nearly a mile westward, are the ruins of an ancient and venerable structure erected by Graham, one of the bishops of Orkney, above the door of which are the initials G. G., with the arms of the see, and the date 1633. There are several tumuli in the parish; and in the quarries on the shore are some beautiful specimens of petrified fishes. Gow, the hero of The Pirate, and Torquill, of The Island of Lord Byron, were both natives of this place.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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